The Games’ most familiar events—skiing and figure skating in the winter, and track and field, swimming and gymnastics in the summer—are rarely considered spectator sports except when our ballooning national pride is at stake.
But consider the array of odd sports that are included at the 30th Summer Games in London.
The shooting events include the trap and the “50-meter rifle 3 positions.”
The cheerily beribboned rhythmic gymnastics events look more like a grounded Cirque du Soleil or live-action Dance Dance Revolution than any kind of serious athletic competition.
And synchronized swimmers perform wonderfully complicated, half-submerged Busby Berkeley routines—for no reason anyone’s ever understood.
This bizarre gallimaufry of sport is nonetheless held in more chest-swelling reverence than any other athletic contest in the world, and inclusion in the Games is the zenith of many sporting careers.
Which events are allowed to exist there, and which are not, is controlled very tightly and mostly secretly by a group called the International Olympic Committee.
In an interview from the Games this week, committee member Dick Pound tells WW that the criteria to add a sport—or eliminate one—include cost, gender balance, international popularity and ability to televise.
Look at softball, which was added to the Olympics in 1996 but booted out of the 2012 Games by a margin of one vote. Ron Radigonda, executive director of the Amateur Softball Association of America, tells WW the IOC was “very tight-lipped, as always. It’s all done by secret ballot and behind closed doors.
“There doesn’t seem to be any real reason why softball wasn’t included.”
What this means is that any number of sports were left out in the cold when the United States athletic delegation flew to London, and few people ever know why.
Oregon has been home to many Olympic athletes over the years. But there are a number of other Oregon athletes who rank among the best in their particular endeavors—but who didn’t get an airplane ticket to London. They don’t get access to the titillating hijinks rumored to take place in the Olympic Village, nor will they receive a gauzy, tear-stained profile on NBC about their hard road to the medal chase.
WW would like to remedy this, at least in part. These Oregon athletes are some of the un-anthemed, un-medaled best at what they do.
Brandon Perard, 27, Dodgeballer
It’s no surprise one of the biggest competitive dodgeball leagues in the country is here in Portland. Recesstime Sports Leagues has 60 teams competing year-round.
And according to Colleen Finn, the league’s founder, there is one player who tops them all. He’s Brandon Perard of the perennial contender Mt. Hoodlums team.
“When he throws from the line, it comes hard and fast,” Finn says. “And when you throw it at him, he does the splits, catches two balls and then gets somebody else out.”
In this sport known to many as a humiliation for awkward children in gym class, dodgeball has a simple goal: Hit the other teams’ players with the ball without letting them catch it. If you hit them, they’re out; if they catch it, you’re out. (Meanwhile, of course, they’re firing at you.)
Perard, a personal trainer who spent four years in the Navy, says he loved the game as a kid. When he found out there was an adult league, he said, “Tell me where to go.”
“The biggest thing you hear,” Perard says, “is you guys really play dodgeball. There’s a competition in Vegas, the one from the movie [Dodgeball], but they’re not nearly as organized. There really aren’t other leagues that can compare with Recesstime in terms of size and player depth.”
Watching the Olympics?: Track and field for sure, because that’s what I grew up doing. I love seeing anyone who’s dominant in their sport perform.
Earliest Olympic memory: It was fun when [U.S. swimmer] Michael Phelps was going for his run, seeing him get the eight [gold] medals [in 2008].
Sport he’d bump to make room for his own: Let’s knock out shooting. Win one for world peace!
Does dodgeball belong in the Olympics?: There’s more to it than people think. I think it could be taken to that level.
Zac Majors, 37, Hang Glider“Zippy” Majors may be one of the top hang gliders in the country—he’s a three-time national champion and competes for the U.S. national team—but when he was growing up in Portland, what he really wanted to be was an Olympic ski racer.
“It got to that point where I realized I wasn’t going to be selected for the national team,” he says. “For me, it was as close as I could get to flying.”
But with hang-gliding, he thought, “I could just drive up to the top of the mountain and fly off.”
Majors started hang-gliding in earnest after moving to Utah but won his first national championship in Oregon in 2008. His parents followed his hang glider in their car during the competition in Lakeview.
Majors is no stranger to international competition—he placed fourth in the 2009 world championships in France—but he’s skeptical about the wind conditions near London for hang-gliding.
“It’d be little bit like having the Winter Olympics in Texas,” he says.
Watching the Olympics?: A lot of the pool events, because growing up I was kind of a water rat.
Earliest Olympic memory: I’m trying to remember whether it was video or whether I was actually watching the Mahre brothers [Steve and Phil, ski-racing twins from Washington].
Sport he’d bump to make room for his own: Is golf in the Olympics? [It debuts in 2016.] But then, maybe I shouldn’t trash golf. Golf courses make really good landing zones.
Does hang-gliding belong in the Olympics?: It would be really challenging for us to find a hang-gliding venue. But still I’m sure we’d find a way to make it work.
Dan Loriaux, 23, Basketball Sharpshooter
When West Linn’s Loriaux shoots a basketball, he doesn’t miss.
The former Wilsonville High School player has made 141 three-pointers in a row, he says. And he’s probably the best HORSE player in the world.
On July 1, he shattered the world record for the most NBA-regulation three-point shots made within a 24-hour period, with 10,381. That was after already setting the world records for most three-pointers in one minute (25), two minutes (46) and one hour (1,077).
By the end of the 24-hour stunt, Loriaux’s right arm was inflamed. Two days later, his arm had turned black and his elbow wouldn’t bend more than two inches.
His arm is now much better, but he hopes it will soon heal enough so he can start shooting again. He says he does it mostly to relax. “I must be pretty stressed out,” says Loriaux, who recently started studying at Duke University School of Medicine, “because I shoot a lot.”
As to whether the IOC has been beating on his door, Loriaux says, “They’re going to have golf [in the Olympics]. They probably have, like, Yahtzee. I’d love to play Olympic HORSE.”
Watching the Olympics?: I’m watching Spain beat Great Britain right now [in basketball].
Earliest Olympic memory: We got to go the Salt Lake [Winter] Olympics in 2002, to the aerials and the freestyle moguls. It was pretty unreal.
Sport he’d bump to make room for his own: I’m not a big motocross fan. And I don’t understand the steeplechase.
Does HORSE belong in the Olympics?: It’d offer a lot of hope to us short guys. I mean, I guess I’m 6-foot-3, but that’s pretty short in the NBA.
Ashley Charters, 26, Softball PlayerBeaverton native Charters already has big achievements under her belt: In 2009, she won the NCAA championship with the University of Washington, and she was part of the U.S. national team that won the 2010 World Cup.
Charters is a triple-threat hitter—she can bunt, slap the ball to the infield, or hit away—and had a whopping .442 on-base percentage in 2011 for the USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch league, meaning she got on base nearly half the time she was up to bat.
But after softball’s ouster from the Games, the one place she hasn’t been able to go is the Olympics.
She currently is helping the Florida-based Pride to first place in the NPF standings two-thirds of the way through the 2012 season.
Charters, who plays second base, says NPF games are much more competitive than international play. “You don’t play other countries where softball’s not as strong,” she says. “You’re playing all-stars every time.”
Still, she says the atmosphere in World Cup play is unmatched in her career.
“But since we won’t be having that in Olympic play,” she says, “that might be my only opportunity.”
Watching the Olympics?: Absolutely, it’s on our TV almost 24/7.
Earliest Olympic memory: It had to be 1996. Was it Atlanta?
Sport she’d bump to make room for her own: Oh gosh, that’s tough. I don’t really want to pick a specific one. Any of them, just to put softball back in.
Does softball belong in the Olympics?: Yes, absolutely. It never should have been taken out. It’s tough, because I was on the national team and we missed the Olympics. It’s disappointing.
Pannhara Mam, 25, Tennis PlayerMam had already been a tennis star for McKay High School in Salem and for Eastern Washington University, but a phone call changed everything for him.
The call came in 2011 from the secretary general of the Tennis Federation of Cambodia. Pannhara’s father is a Cambodian native who’d fled the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and that made Pannhara and his brother, Vetu, eligible for the national team.
They found themselves on a plane to a Cambodian sports camp to help the country rebuild its tennis program. This April, Cambodia’s Davis Cup team ended up defeating Jordan, Myanmar, Qatar and Singapore. Mam won all of his singles matches.
Although the Mams are two of the best tennis players in Cambodia, admission to the Olympics is tied almost entirely to rankings earned on the professional tennis tour. Because neither Mam nor his teammates play extensively on the professional tour, Cambodia has no tennis players in the Olympics.
Watching the Olympics?: I watched the opening ceremony and that was about it. It’s strange, but I don’t really like watching sports all that much.
Earliest Olympic memory: It was probably 1996, with basketball. I was really into basketball.
Anyone you’d bump to allow Cambodia to participate?: I feel like I wouldn’t want to bump someone out just so we could be in it. We’re happy to be in the Davis Cup. That’s pretty big for Cambodia already.
Do you want to see Cambodian players in the Olympics for tennis?: Yeah, I feel like we got those wins. Once we see that we can beat one team, we know we can beat others. Every day, anybody can beat anybody.
Tyson Poor, 29, WindsurferPoor chases the wind.
He lives in Hood River every spring and summer, then flits to Mexico, Venezuela or Costa Rica in the winter; he’s also one of the best windsurfers in the world.
Poor finished second in slalom (a high-speed race weaving through buoys) at the U.S. Windsurfing National Championships last month in Hood River to Australian legend Phil McGain, who won by tiebreaker. Poor had to sit out his specialty—freestyle, which he handily won at the 2011 nationals—because of a shoulder he injured by diving headfirst into a submerged sandbar while windsurfing.
“Midair I could see that was a bad idea,” he says.
The Olympics does have RS:X-class windsurfing that uses a heavier, slower sailboard designed for low-wind conditions.
“Never really appealed to me,” Poor says. “I got into windsurfing for the rush and jumping and going fast. The Olympics is always in a light-wind spot, so it’s more like yachting or sailing.”
But even RS:X windsurfing has been voted out of the 2016 Olympics to make room for kiteboarding—a sport where a “surfer” is pulled along the water by a large kite.
Watching the Olympics?: Trying to. Everything from water polo to swimming and gymnastics. Lots of beach volleyball.
Earliest Olympic memory: Maybe the first time was watching the downhill super-G [skiing] stuff. I grew up on the East Coast, so a lot of winter sports.
Sport he’d bump to make room for his own: There’s a ton! How about rhythmic gymnastics where they do the ribbons and twirling? Oh, and synchronized swimming.
Does slalom windsurfing belong in the Olympics?: If there are the conditions for it, it definitely belongs.
Video footage by Brian Metcalf-Perez
Hood River’s Wylde was 3 when she first got on a windsurfing board.
Fiona Wylde, 15, Windsurfer
“I just stood on the board and held the string to get used to being up there,” she says. “All I wanted to do was go fast.”
And she has.
By the time she was 12, she had already logged a first-place finish at the La Ventana Classic windsurfing competition. And this July at the U.S. Windsurfing National Championships in Hood River, Wylde’s performance in the slalom not only put her at the top of the Junior Division, she also managed to outperform every woman in that event.
It’s possible there are some genetics involved here, along with a lot of dedication: Fiona’s father, MacRae, is also a pro windsurfer, and finished third in his class at the nationals in slalom.
“He was the first one to put me on a board,” Fiona says of her dad.
Watching the Olympics?: I was in Mexico [at a windsurfing competition] with no TV and no cellphone. But I saw a little at the airport. Track and field.
Earliest Olympic memory: I was lucky enough to watch my uncle compete on the horse-jumping team. [Peter Wylde won a gold medal with the U.S. in team jumping at the 2004 Athens Games.]
Sport she’d bump to make room for her own: Kiting came in at our expense. I think it’s a great sport, but we shouldn’t get knocked out for it. I think we’re very compatible.
Does slalom windsurfing belong in the Olympics?: I think slalom would be an incredible addition to the Olympics. We have a world tour, but the Olympics would be another goal to shoot for.